October 20, 2010

How A Work in Progress came to be

My inspiration to write a book about writing and my journey as a writer are closely linked and you will read much about those in A Work in Progress. When I was working on my first book Running Shoes Are a Girl’s Best Friend, which I began in January 2008, I drew a lot of support from reading books on writing. 

So often people tell me that they’d love to write a book, and most of those people are not professional writers. I strongly believe everyone has a story worth telling. Many people are keen to write their memoirs, often for family alone rather than for publication, while others want to write a book to share their professional experience. 

I also believe anyone can write a book if they choose to do so—it is simple, but it is not easy. Often the initial excitement about the decision to write a book wears off, especially once we actually sit down behind our computer or with our notepad and realize that that perfect sentence we had in mind doesn’t quite want to arrive on paper. 

We begin to worry, and agonize, and wonder what we were thinking. The enormity of the task begins to overwhelm, and soon stops us from writing altogether. This is where I would like to encourage people to take small steps, and focus on the here and now by writing a few sentences or even a couple of pages a day. Doing this every day not only adds up, but practice makes better, if not perfect. 

We learn to translate our thoughts into writing and become more comfortable with that process. I think it’s similar to the way we learn to walk and talk: we learn to walk by trying to stand up, falling down, and we repeat this until we walk. Nearly every parent remembers the first word their child said, not the first sentence—the first word. We learn to talk word for word. We are applauded for our efforts until the result is walking and talking. Writing a book is very much like that.

The first time I thought about writing a book was more than 15 years ago, before I began my career as a professional journalist in 1996. I still have notes that outline the idea for that book, about the life of my grandmother who is now 94 and a story I still very much would like to write. It wasn’t until I moved to Canada late in 2007 that I seriously committed to writing my first book. 

By then I had worked as a financial journalist for more than seven years, worked a copy-editor at Australia’s financial newspaper and was writing freelance articles about runners and triathletes for magazines. While I now run marathons competitively, running for me is so much more than competition. 

It’s a very important part of my life, one that has empowered me, broadened my horizons, has encouraged me to lead a healthy life and has given me so many great friendships and adventures. And that all started with a decision to go for a little jog to clear my mind while studying and to lose a bit of excess weight. I wanted to provide inspiration and encouragement for other women. 

Rather than just talking about me and my journey I wanted to talk to a lot of other women in different age groups and with various motivations about their reasons to run. I began in January 2008 on what became Running Shoes Are a Girl’s Best Friend, an inspiring book about 53 women who run which I finished in November 2009. 

I learnt a lot in the process, especially from a writing exercise I did in April 2009, where I wrote 20,000 words in eight days. After I finished my second book Powered From Within: Stories About Running & Triathlon, a compilation of features I wrote for magazines in Australia and Canada over a time-span of four years, I looked at those 20,000 words again in January 2010. 

I realized that it had the potential to be a good book, so I spent until May 2010 rewriting, revising and adding 33 exercises to it. The result is A Work in Progress: Exercises in Writing. Unlike my previous two books, which contain stories about others as a vehicle to express my desire to encourage people who are interested in running and triathlon, this book is first-hand and personal. 

I believe this was a breakthrough effort for me because it makes the transition from reporting, as I have done professionally since 1996 from three continents, to a more personal form of authorship and providing first-hand advice. Interestingly I have since heard from readers that they also find general life lessons, not just related to authorship, in the book and enjoy it for that reason.  
Margaret Miller, a U.S.-based writer who has taught writing and literature at the college and high school levels, is a big fan of A Work in Progress. We met in August during my book signing at a Penticton bookstore. Margaret bought all three of my books and wrote this review about A Work in Progress on Amazon. 

“This compilation of exercises appealed to me because I'm working on a non-fiction manuscript and have hit a "block." The exercises she recommends are exactly what I need to jumpstart me back into the writing life. Her stories are personal, humorous and relevant to the process. I went back to the store to purchase a copy for my co-author, who is having similar issues getting focused. Highly recommended for all writers and would-be writers from someone who has been where we all are!”
Scott Jones, who is working on a manuscript for his first book, also said A Work in Progress encouraged him to keep working on his writing. This world-class amateur Ironman triathlete and owner of IMJ Coaching wrote in an Amazon review: "In reading Margreet Dietz' book, I came away with three main themes. 

"Exercises laid out like Dietz has done will absolutely help one in putting pen to paper and produce the beginnings of a work that one can expand upon after finishing the exercises. It will also help to start flexing that "writing muscle" on a daily basis. 

"The secondary benefit of this, short, concise and hugely readable prose will be to tap into a very interesting, accomplished and inquisitive person's nature and see what one can do with their writing. Lastly, I walked away with an profound respect for this author's courage to just set aside what many would describe as the dream career, with all its prestige and excitement, to strike out on a completely new life as a writer. 

"I highly recommend this book for both the beginning and struggling writer, as well as any person who is exploring the idea of a radical shift in the way they are currently living their life." 

A Work in Progress: Exercises in Writing by Margreet Dietz is available in paperback ($19.95) and as ebook ($9.99) through Amazon, Apple's iBookstore, Booklocker and from the author.

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